you show me mine, and i’ll show you yours…




i had wanted the subtitle for this installment to be titled “god has a plan”, dripping with humor and irony… but, given the insanity of the world at the moment, and the ridiculous religious and cynical political core behind so much of it, it would be such a distracting lead. and bad taste.

over the years, i have experienced and observed the tremendous power of mainstream thinking, from the point of view of an unrepentant urban contrarian. i have made it clear in many of these little rants, what i think of it. and how much i value the work of regarding the world as the extraordinary place it is. these perspectives are simply in conflict. it is my opinion and direct experience that it takes effort – to look, listen, consider and not take the things made ordinary by mainstream thinking, for granted.

no one can survive with the lights turned on all the time. always aware of all of it. that is too much for anyone to bear. who knows, maybe some high lama, sitting in repose, can do it? but they have many advantages us plebes are not often allowed. less responsibility is a big one. quiet, with fewer distractions, also doesn’t hurt. having a few acolytes to gather alms or rice, is another… but for those of us exposed to the world of need and risk, it’s a pleasure to dim the lights for a moment. and there’s not a little bit of dim, in mainstream.

of course it winds it’s way through every discipline and discourse, but engineering seems wracked with more than it’s fair share. for all it’s apparent success, the technology and “innovation” of the last many years has largely foundered upon the limits placed on it by many tiny minds. to be fair, many of those minds are not engineers, but businessfolk, politicians, educators, entertainment executives, teenagers, and especially audiophiles. engineers respond to the requirements, perceived or consigned. it’s the job description. and then they strive for solutions. yet… while the idea of “progress” is absolutely a vague and contested notion, i don’t think it controversial at all to consider the people involved in a fair manner. it’s a psychology… ethnology, sociology, anthropology of contemporary need! what are people after? what do they think they want? why is it made the way it is? this sounds like market research! but i mean it in more of an ontological sense. what does it mean? there is so much small thinking when it comes to the business of sounds: obviously there’s a need for such a good supply of it? i suppose it’s a good thing the cost has really come down! why is it necessary to reduce it’s value to such a degree? i take that last question very seriously. it’s like “casual sex”… is there really such a thing? or is it just a desperate move to manage the emotional impact of the interaction?

“foundered?” failing… “failing…?” “how can you say that jc?”

i am not talking about the pirated stuff. that shit is a homerun! i’m talking about the real thing.

an algebra of deprivation.

i believe this wouldn’t even warrant a discussion if music was more of a physical practice, and separated from the technology used to make and distribute it, but it largely isn’t anymore. as you will hear me repeat here as often as i can (since no one seems to hear it), “music” means reproduced music today, for most people in the world. even in the developing world! and it is increasingly made by people who “play” no instrument at all… don’t know the context. who have no particular need or interest! and for those who do play an instrument, or manufacture the means, it is less well compensated or acknowledged, than ever. and it comes to us downloaded over speakers and earpieces made in china for under 5 dollars. i know this isn’t “news”, but the meaning of that simple statement seems to impress no one.

“but jc, isn’t that also a representation of a fabulous re-distribution of power from the expert class, to… anyone with electricity and an internet connection? everyone is a musician now! everyone a connoisseur. the door is open and the street is wide!” “does it matter who makes it?” as long as it’s someone finds value in it…?

it’s supposed to be a sign of madness, to spend too much time talking to yourself…

well, you know, the shit made by editing. sampling. morphing. programming. you love that shit, jc. yes stockhausen was an asshole. but you love aphex twin, don’t you? de la soul! chuck D. what about… break pong? booty rap! dj screw! die antvoord!!! yeah.

einstürzende neubauten!

i don’t deny it. i love that shit (i do fucking hate the swedish house mafia. can’t wait until electronica fades away… although at the rate it’s going, i might be dead a while before that happens?).

the creative process, the recording process and playback all rely upon the storage, editing, or coding/decoding, of electronic signals as the primary media, for the entire practice now. even the teaching of music played with acoustic instruments has embraced computers/software as a pedagogical tool. that means almost all “music” is mediated, in some critical way, through electronic technology… and computing. even in the concert hall, where video monitors, screens and public address are slowly creeping in. the standard references are more distanced from reality than ever, abstract, idealized and strange. they have nothing to do with anything physical, except perhaps for the sense of sight! a flat, 2 dimensional vision, like what you get on an video monitor, like the audiophile press, like a drone’s eye view of afghanistan or yemen: the visual metaphor and hyperbole to describe the processes relating to what we are about to hear…. we can’t actually go there anymore. so we transmit and receive ghostly images of the apparent enemy and the aftermath, via remote control. collateral damage? my own daughter has a hard time listening to anything without asking “if there’s a video to go along?”

for all this power, a search-able database, “craft” (i gag a little on that one), we seem only to hear less. and the more that lack sounds like… all the same thing. “rock” music, doesn’t. classical music is doing the state sponsored fade away. pop is… who the fuck knows? kanye motherfucking gaga? and the “alt-_____” moniker has been beaten to the point of lifelessness. at least as far as the mainstream goes… but it seems to serve someone?

what are they hearing when they listen?

they hear less! not more. that much is clear. there isn’t more there there to hear. and one has to ask the question if this isn’t the entire idea? compared with the actual experience of a human playing an instrument at a particular place and time, most people seem generally impatient with the complexity and variability of the “real thing”. one of the expressions of power in the mainstream perspective seems to be it’s deafness. the great middle has transformed less, into more.

for me, while not at all controversial to report, it is bewildering!


there is one tempo… that dominates every genre of music: 120 beats per minute (besides being the speed of a somewhat stimulated human heartbeat, it makes it easy for DJs to segue). i suspect, pressure placed upon all music production from pop sales, has created a powerful trend towards simplification. of course it has.

there is one rhythm: 4/4. everything relates back to “1, 2, 3, 4… even waltzes! (3 against 4 is one of my favorite polyrhythms! even more than the 2 against 3 of the caribbean). most “world music” has had to relate itself to “the rhythm the west” (there is only one). it is so weird to hear meringue or mambo “transposed” to 4/4 time. but tell that to young dominicano/as! for them it’s fashion, sex and dance… who cares. turn that shit up. “and turns those lights down!”

polyrhythms are still associated with africa… and even south korea (the traditional music of korea has a crushing heavy swing and synchopation matched only in africa). free jazz can still thank ed blackwell and the new orleans music scene for it’s roots… but they are all under assault. the obsession with scheduled time, that began with the coming of the railroads, and has continued unabated with computers, together with the idea of speed, has forced a clock onto all of us. and “music” today has never been more scheduled. punch in, ya fucks!

four musical instruments dominate in all types of music: piano/it’s electronic analogue; the electric guitar; trap drums/or it’s electronic analogue; the computer (and software instruments or programmable synthesizers). even “modern classical” music often has parts written for these instruments… and all of it is edited with a computer. but all pop music, and most of it’s alternatives, are made primarily with these tools today. these four “voices” are employed in a standard range of timbres, for the most part, to the point where it is difficult to tell who, if anyone, is operating them. where difference was celebrated, it is now trimmed like fat.

only the human voice remains unique… “wait, what’s that?” oh yeah, auto tune. and the harmonizer… melodyne and the digital vocoder. just fuck it. we’re back to the computer again.

that the computer is utterly accepted as a musical instrument today is surely just an indication of how important computers are for us as a species, now? yes, that certainly feels about right? and that is a good thing, right? certainly there are great important advantages? progress! optimization! efficiency! kwality (the sampled, processed and permanently repaired facsimile of what might have happened in a better possible world, that is coming shortly… ).

the training of musicians is done mainly in schools today, irregardless of style or form. the academic nature of the discipline has produced highly skilled operators of musical instruments. but what do they play and why? what do they want to say with that bland pitch perfect metronome synchronized mediocre middle of the road unextraordinary shit? the human musical process is as carefully engineered as the chips used to create and manipulate the signals that represent “music” today. and it sounds that way.

okay, there are lots of exceptions… time to be fair, and less negatively general. there may even be signs of some blowback? i do really hope so. neil young and PONO is one bright spot. bright is the opposite of dim.

i have seen the reaction of “ordinary” people to live music in the subway tunnels of new york city, for example. literally, underground music! how civilized it is that it is even allowed to happen (you gotta love nyc)?! to those attracted to what is played there, one can observe something akin to wonder and respect at the “black magic” of physically operating a musical instrument in the present. the more unfamiliar, the better. newness matters. besides scenes of “human beat-boxes” speed drumming on joint compound buckets, i remember seeing a group of street musicians in the times square station doing “congotronics” while two japanese street kids tap-danced hiphop rhythms to it. talk about wonder! it was deep and different and impossible to manufacture. post industrial jpop grunge meets urban african electronica. the reverb and fellini-like arrival and departure of the trains below, added both tension and intensity to the explosive rhythmic and melodic impact. wall to wall people, listened to that in rapt awe. they raked in the dough.

i remember a sax blowing free jazz over the theme song to the “mario brothers” video game at union square station. it was so wrong and so genius at the same time. he played it crazy, be-bop wildman… but lyrical, like johnny hartman or charles gale. mature, passionate. funny! blazing! his drummer was a head banging thrasher. no jazz there at all. they had a hell of a crowd! and it was impossible to identify any demographic markers within it… every age, class, ethnic arrangement or sexual orientation was probably included. we are talking about the NYC subway here!

but would you find that music in, say, a somewhat reduced or simplified population within american suburbia, or rural france? most younger folks would say: of course! youtube! if they stumbled upon it on-line… a virtual version of stumbling upon it in the subway! ah, the democracy of the internet! they sure as hell don’t let that shit get into the PRC… degenerate sound! they don’t let that shit onto iTunes either.

yes yes… and i hope it got recorded on someone’s cellphone. and uploaded. but, not one essential component would survive that trip, other than poor evidence of it’s existence. a brutally pared down, albeit lightly edited, facsimile… taken for “the real thing” because now, it is… it’s a post card goddammit. that is the difference.

i am grateful for that and also to the internet for sneaking out the truth, albeit mixed like a ghost in the machine.

we generally hear those things that are valued most to the industry, a lot, and in a mainstream sort of way. the rest doesn’t matter: that is a verb. it actively unmatters. that’s just background noise… that goes on youtube. for the freaks. “product” is refined. it’s checked for misspellings. it is simplified for our “benefit”, by the engineering and the mainstream value system. we get the “best” dreck in performance, edited, produced and archived. what’s the problem?

there is no there there. and less now than ever. 600 channels, and nothing to watch.

as you probably have gathered at this point, i certainly do not think or believe that any kind of “god” has a plan that means anything to humanity. or to me. and if there is one beyond my comprehension, at work all around me, it isn’t any of my concern… there’s enough evidence for me that it’s a bad plan, and one that would require my resistance, if indifference failed. i am NOT arrogant enough to believe there is any possible way i might interfere or even play a part in any rapture, for better or worse, if there is any. and if it is my eventual choice to join in, i kindly say no thank you. there are plenty enough people out there doing “god’s will” for the planet. a bang up job, too, i might add. i think that covers all the angles? i like vague for certain experiences… it’s smooth, creamy, easy to chew and with a semi-painkilling dullness. but it’s better to be clear sometimes.

i require wonder to be moved. it can’t be bought or preached… it has to be directly experienced, or i don’t can’t and won’t believe you. i want to know.

we have lots of that, and none at all…

some of you will recall the 50 and 6550 single amps of several posts back… nice gear, it turned out to be. my plan was to work out some bugs with the current feedback and extend the loop to include the output tube’s voltage gain… i want to make a tube based arrangement with way beyond the normal amount of feedback. have to get this out of the way… but the search pulled out a few tidbits of interesting flash.

by folding a pentode transconductance amplifier stage, into a “P” type cascode, several interesting features can be flushed out…

Screen shot 2014-12-12 at 11.43.08 AM

a quick look at the gain over frequency of this circuit clearly indicates a similar result to the basic Gm amp. 72 dB of gain is pretty great, and with an exceedingly useful bandwidth. so what’s the big deal? i have already got to this place with one pentode.

Screen shot 2014-12-12 at 11.50.10 AM

the addition of the PNP transistor offers the opportunity to multiply the impedance of the load that the cascode’s transconductance works upon…. by buffering the output and bootstrapping the signal to the transistor, some interesting changes take place. please note, that the plate voltage of the pentode is is fixed, as is the base of the transistor, and the screen! nothing “moves”, except for the current through the load… (R8 and R12).

Screen shot 2014-12-12 at 11.49.03 AM

below you see the sweep… just shy of 120dB of gain, for two active devices (one a tube), a buffer, and the DC feedback to the screen. the roll off looks quite similar to what you find in a typical open-loop op-amp. the things that can be done with this are numerous…

Screen shot 2014-12-12 at 11.49.22 AM

i have gone on for too long. but i promise to come back to this circuit right away!

one additional note: frank blöhbaum, the inventor of the patented “super pentode” circuit has been using folded cascodes with tubes in clever arrangements for some time. i recently saw his new work at ETF in berlin. he has a circuit based on a folded cascode using a triode and PNP transistor, but which incorporates current feedback as well, from the following stage (which obviously can be an output tube!). this circuit is outlined in the most recent “Linear Electronics”, published by Jan Didden in holland. i recommend you go find that! at ETF, he extended the circuit to include a pentode. and the amp Alex Kriegl whipped up at the show to demonstrate the idea sounded fabulous! so good.

actually, the speaker that frank whipped together for the show wasn’t half bad either! those guys came up with great sounds.

i had hoped to get my own work with this up here, but he beat me to it! and with a very elegant twist to the circuit. clearly, adding the “super pentode” circuit, which returns the screen current to the plate in the pentode, increases the gain and stability further, and lowers noise, by eliminating the separation of cathode currents. all things to improve the folded pentode cascode. but he has a very simple solution to connecting the entire circuit together with current feedback. fantastic work!

we continue with all of this… plus look at an amp using my take on the technique.


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